July 28, 2014

Muda is Bullsh*t!

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One of Lean’s fundamental concepts is to define Value as that which is desired by the customer.  The opposite of this is Muda, or waste.  But what is muda  in the eyes of the customer – either internal or external?

A lot of discussions on Lean thinking have pointed to the term “waste” as being misleading or, at the very least, difficult for most audiences to understand.  After all, no one likes to think of the work they do as Waste.  So, many have endeavored to come up with other terms, or to better define just what Muda is.  I believe I may have found a useful alternative that is simple, intuitive, and part of our every day language.

If you’ll pardon the expression, the simplest way of explaining it, is that Muda is Bullsh*t.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer (better make those boots instead) and consider how you’d respond to a vendor who offered you these statements:

  • We didn’t hit our goal of increasing profits 10% last quarter, so we’re going to raise our prices for the rest of the year to make up for it.
  • We only do a production run of that part once every six months due to the high set-up costs in our factory, but we’ll put your part on back-order and give you a call once it’s in stock.
  • You’re in a rush?  Well, we’ve got a huge backlog.  We’ll have to put you in the queue, or we could charge an expediting fee to get you ahead of our other orders.
  • With the way the economy is, we had to let some people go, so we’ve had to discontinue some services.  We can offer you a discount on something else, though.

If your reaction to any of the above statements is, “That’s bullsh*t!” you now have a firm grasp of what is waste, and what is value, in the eyes of the customer.  Now consider some of the goings-on internally, within the company:

  • I visited a company once that had ping pong tables in the lounges.  People there looked like they were having fun.  Let’s get some ping pong tables in here, then we’ll be having fun.  And schedule a company picnic and a fishing trip, too.
  • The guys up at corporate want that report, so let’s give it to them.  I don’t think anyone looks at it, but that’s not our job to worry about it.  Our job is to give them their report.
  • If we re-organize we’ll be more efficient and better aligned.
  • Everyone write down their objectives for the year, then turn them in to your manager.  At the end of the year, we’ll see how well you did and reward your accomplishments with merit increases.  Merit increases have been capped at 2% due to external economic factors beyond our control.
  • I’m not sure where to put that.  Just store it over there and we’ll dig it out later if anyone even asks for it.  Usually, those things just sit there until we throw them out 2 years later.

If your response to any of these is also, “That’s bullsh*t!” then you have an even deeper understanding of how waste is generated.  Fact of the matter is, most workplaces are full of bullsh*t.  If you’ve ever felt like all you do is deal with other people’s bullsh*t 95% of the time, you’re not alone.  In fact, you’re just about average – most companies generate about 85-95% Muda in their processes.  As we all know, there’s usually a lot more bullsh*t than we know what to do with.

Bullshi*t, if you’ll pardon another expression, is a pain in the a**.  It causes people to spend more time coping with a problem than developing solutions.  It drains energy, increases irritation, causes total disengagement and leads to poor quality, lost customers, and dwindling profits.  Even though bullsh*t may be deemed beneficial since it creates job security and cleaning it up at least gives some people a purpose, it’s also extremely messy and isn’t very pleasant to work with every day.

Customers also don’t want to pay for bullsh*t.  Odds are, they have more than enough of it back at their own place.  If they don’t, they certainly don’t want to buy yours.  Bullsh*t is a funny thing for a company, in that the more of it you generate, the less of it people will want to buy.

The goal of Lean is to eliminate waste.  Therefore, since Muda is bullsh*t, the more of it we can get rid of the better off we’ll all be.

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  • Miguel

    Thank you for distilling muda into such a simple example.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      You are very welcome! Making things more complicated than they need to be is a waste all by itself.

  • http://improvewithme.com Brian

    What a f***ing great post! (Now you have me swearing!)

    This is a great way to describe waste!

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Brian! I’m a reminded of the classic film, A Christmas Story, where Ralphie reminds us that his father worked in profanity the way other artists work in watercolor or oils.

      BS might not be the most eloquent way to describe “waste” (Ha! Get it??!) but it’s one of the more intuitive. While not every audience will find it amusing, those that do will probably gain an instant understanding of what lean is trying to eliminate.

  • http://www.InformationArchitected.com dankeldsen

    I do get the sense that Lean, Systems Thinking, and a good variety of other da*n useful toolkits are so academic that most people can’t wrap their heads around it.

    Thanks for cutting through some of the BS to show muda for what it is. If the waste in every organization stunk like BS, you could bet people would do something about it.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Dan.

      The larger problem, I often find, is that people smell the BS all too well. They either can’t do anything about it due to suffocating management styles or, what is really perplexing, is that they have convinced themselves that it is their lot in life to simply live with it. A few even make their careers by demonstrating an ability to shovel it.

      In order for muda to be eliminated, the mindset has to change from one of, “my job is to deal with the BS” to one of “my job is to prevent the BS from ever happening in the first place.” The wonderful thing about it is, the person who hears such a thing for the first time is likely to say, “That’s Bullsh*t!” ;^)

      • http://www.InformationArchitected.com dankeldsen

        David – Ah, this thread could go round and round, couldn’t it! There’s just no end to the Bullsh*t that’s left to wade around in… agree that a certain amount of it is because people either say “that’s not my job” and assume someone else will deal with it, or as you say, happily say “but that IS my job, and I’ll leave it as it is, thanks very much.”

        What can I say, I’m in my father’s mold – if I put something in my shopping cart and up not wanting to buy it after all, I’ll walk it all the way back to where I found it. I’d prefer a job well done than just a job, any day. A tiny bit of extra effort/thought, and we could revolutionize the world… so I’ll keep working on sharpening my own BS detector, and hand out as my BS preventing kits as I can until we get there! :)

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